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DIVE FLAG-- A LITTLE HISTORY


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Posted by baja haha on June 05, 2010 at 05:36:52:

DIVE FLAG-- One man's involvement

For a concise history of the divers flag it is suggested that you read "Legends of diving; "The dive flag" @ www.portagequarry.com" by Dr, Samuel Miller

There is bogus version of its history presented by "Fat Boy scuba" ( Fat Boy?he is certainly was not and LA County U/W Instructor!! .)

The recognized and acclaimed father of the dive flag was Ted Nixon from the inland water of Michigan who passed away several years ago. At that time a pretender came out of the wood work and claimed recognition as the "father of the dive flag"...However there is no mention of the pretender's name in any dive flag documentation in my file which is approximately 2 feet tall, or in any litigation which has involved the dive flag.

The original "recommended" official size was four units high, five units wide and a one unit wide diagonal stripe. The original and long forgotten color was international ( Neon or blaze) orange but after a very short time the manufacture's settled on red with a white diagonal stripe. Now it is rather common to see all sorts of variations of the background colors, size proportions and especially the size of the stripe.

I was involved in the flags development and acceptance both locally, nationally and internationally in the late 1950s via Skin Diver Magazine and conducted considerable correspondence with concerned divers through out the US.

In early 1960 a diver was struck by a boat at Long point, Catalina Island while resting on his float which displayed the then very new dive flag. (You can read the 2 part 6 page article in a early edition of the old LA County Underwater News)This was the very first accident of a diver flying a diver's flag.

In 1962 I was summoned as an "expert witness" for the prosecution. It was an awesome responsibility since the dive flag was only a few years old and never been tested in a court of law and I alone had to defend it.

We prevailed -- Under then existing maritime law, which responsibility is established by percentages, the victim Mr. Toso was declared 5% negligent for being in the water and the boat operator, Mr Burns was 95% neglect for not recognizing a diver displaying the "flag" and running over and seriously injuring him. The judge awarded Mr. Toso $132,000.00 in damages - a huge sum in the early 1960s.

This one litigation in a court of law was the defining case establishing the rights and privileges of a diver flying the then almost unknown red and white flag; as recognized the symbol of recreational diving.

Since that initial appearance I have been in evolved in a number of other litigations and consultations regarding the divers flag, some of the more significant and interesting evolvements were as follows.

In the 1960s "Sea Craft" of 3 A Church Street, Wilmington, Massachusetts was marketing after market items and almost as an after thought on the back cover a selection of "Divers Jewelry." Among the items they offered was the very first "Back Plate." Bob Rutherford the founder of the Aquatic Center in Newport beach, California attached the back plate to the US Divers 44 CuFt SCUBA cylinders to create the distinctive Orange County twin 44s." ( see; Legends of diving "The Sea Sabres signaling system" @www.portagequarry.com.")

After a few short years Sea Craft was acquired by the then giant and very aggressive New England Divers, of Beverly Massachusetts. They expand the line including giving the jewelry portion more prominence in the catalog. Soon the jewelry section comprised a major part of the catalog.

As with all things there is a begin middle and end. New England divers had expanded to much too fast almost faced bankruptcy. They sold or closed most their shops located throughout the US (one was in LA and One in OC) In the process they sold the accessory line to one company and the divers jewelry line to a New York City firm


Approximately 20 years ago I received a frantic call from Dick Bonin the founder and at that time president of SCUBA Pro. Apparently the jewelry portion which had remained dormant for so many years came to life. The present owner deduced that since the jewelry featured the divers flag they were the sole proprietor of the rights to the diver's flag and had hired a hot shot NYC lawyer to represent them, in a definitive litigation against a SCUBA Pro dive shop "Universal divers" for using the flag on their letterhead and on a street sign and New England Bell Telephone for advertising the flag in their books. A quick review of my file and some reproduced pages from my file and Skin Diver Magazine determined that the dive flag had been in existence a full five years prior to the establishment of Sea Craft and their production of divers jewelry containing the divers flag.


To my knowledge The red and white divers flag has never been accepted as an official flag in the US or any where in the world but rather as a "recognized flag of recreational diving activity." Like Coca cola and Mac Donalds the red and white divers flag is a pure American contribution and since it introduction in 1957 it has had world wide recognition and acceptance as an unofficial recognized flag of recreational diving through out the world.


Huge fines? To establish a violation of law requires a competent witness or resultant damages. Buzzing a diver would be difficult to establish.. Injury would be positive proof, but then it would require arrest of the violator and long term litigation in a court of law. Mr Burns did not stop to give aid to Mr Toso.. He and his boat were discovered several hours later tucked way back into a cove near the west end, where he was apprehended.

There are some who have an abundance of testosterone and a lack of grey matter who proclaim that they would point or even fire their spear guns at a boat that came, in their estimation, to close for comfort. At that time when they point or fire the gun they would be guilty of a crime of "assault with a deadly weapon." There was a case in the then bucolic community of Goat Hill, now the up scale city of Costa Mesa in which two less that desirable citizens began drinking and as the night wore on began arguing. One picked up a spear gun and shot the victim who was taken to the local Hoag hospital in Newport Beach and patched up. They returned to their trailer on Goat Hill and continued drinking - and arguing. A few hours later the victim lay dead with an Arbalete spear shaft in bedded in his body.

In the trial the defense was that a spear gun was a toy and certainly not a dangerous weapon. The prosecution claimed it was a very dangerous weapon and should be used with caution and only in the water. Bob Ruetherford, (see Legends of Diving) who was Mr. Orange County diver and my neighbor was summoned as an expert witness. He and I and others discussed and experimented as to how to best demonstrate the power of a spear gun and that a spear gun was indeed a dangerous weapon and not a toy. We set up a chair on which was placed a series of pine boards, the Arbalete was loaded fired which split several of the boards in bedding the point deep into the last board.

This was duplicated in a court of law at which time the spear gun was identified as a dangerous weapon. The perpetrator was found guilty and sent off to spend the rest of his life behind bars.

I am aware that there has been three local divers, possibly more, who were hit by a boat, Daryl Toso, who sustained injuries to his arm and upper torso, Bob Ruetherford, who's leg was severely was injured and the famed competitive spear fisherman Bob Manaki, (A LB Neptune as well as his son)whose injuries prohibited him from participating as member of the LB Neptunes team representing the US in the world spear fishing competition. It is interesting to note all were participating in Spear fishing at the time of their accidents.


Most recently on January 10 ,2009, 26 year old Rob Murphy was spear fishing off shore in open water of Stuart Florida when he was struck by a boat amputating both his feet. The 38 foot boat driven by an ER doctor did not stop to offer aid, rather the doctor chose to call his attorney who was waiting at the dock for him along with the authorities. This case is still pending and it is predicted that the the come can have a very pronounced effect on the future acceptance and displaying of the divers flag both in Florida and through out the worlds diving community


In the late 1950s, locally in SoCal, we divers created a poster of a diving fatality; A person who had been struck and killed by a boat. Horrible horrible eye catching poster which I still have the only remaining original; many years ago I a copy I shared with Dale Schecker of CDN and the SoCal historian Patrick Smith for their historical files and not to be shared in any way with the current diving population.. It was posted in most all marinas and dock in the Southland-- it got the word across. How about those of you who frequent the docks? Have you produced a poster about the dive flag?

( I know the answer-- NO! will you? the answer is also NO! Will you complain YES! )

About 1965 I wrote the description of the divers flag for the US Coast Guard auxiliary which was also incorporated into "Chapmans." I must have been too verbose since my submission was reduced appreciably to any resemblance to what I wrote and what was published in these documents is purely coincidental.

In the mid 1960s I was honored by Skin Diver magazine as their very first "Guest Editor." The title of my work was "Signpost to safety-- the divers flag." In the article I urged all divers to proudly display the new symbol of our sport, the divers flag; on the bumpers of their automobiles, at their work place; on club jackets and if dressed formally in their lapels... and they did! There was an almost immediate response to my call, for Dive flags seemed to sprout up like weeds, now it seems they are as rare as weeds in Martha Stewart's garden

I would also suggest-- urge -- that you publicize the divers by proudly display the flag on your vehicles, on you boats and on your floats.. Displaying a red and white divers flag is no assurance that you will not have an accident and sufferer the pain and its debilitating effects but if you do have and accident you certainly have recourse as established in a Long Beach California court of law fifty years ago by the Toso vs Burns litigation.

That is all I have to say.. Read & heed..


copywright 2010, Dr Samuel Miller




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